The Social Determinants of Health: Key Drivers Shaping the Quality of Life for People and Communities

610 199 Deb Kollars

(Photo: NPS Photo)

When people think about maintaining their health, the medical world of doctors, prescriptions, clinics and hospitals often comes to mind. But health professionals, policy experts and community advocates are increasingly embracing a more comprehensive view – one that takes into account the many significant inputs that surround and shape our home and work lives, our health, and our well-being.

These inputs are known as the “Social Determinants of Health.” As a new report by CA Fwd and the California Economic Summit explains, these determinants are “conditions that shape the health of individuals, as well as the well-being and prosperity of families, communities, and the entire state as a whole.”

The report, “Healthy Communities for Healthy People: A Promising Gateway to a More Prosperous and Equitable California,” is being released in conjunction with the 2019 California Economic Summit in Fresno, November 7 and 8. The report, which was underwritten by the Blue Shield of California Foundation, highlights how the Social Determinants of Health are embedded in the Summit’s efforts to reduce poverty and increase equity and economic security for all Californians.

“We know that the Social Determinants of Health can be powerful drivers in the lives of individuals, families and communities,” said Micah Weinberg, CEO of CA Fwd. “The Summit’s work to make sure these determinants are operating as positive forces in people’s lives is in harmony with our overarching goal of ensuring that the California Dream is available to all.”

Among the key Social Determinants of Health: Affordable and adequate housing, education and vocational training, employment opportunities, income level, food security, neighborhood safety and transportation systems, environmental conditions, and community and social supports. One of the most important social determinants of health involves patterns of inclusion or exclusion based on race, ethnicity, gender, and immigration status that lead to and reinforce other social determinants.

As the report explains:

“[T]the social and economic health of families, neighborhoods and communities – or lack thereof – are key drivers of the physical health and longevity of those who live there. In a self-perpetuating cycle, poverty and poor health function in a reinforcing relationship that spills across generations, leaving a deep divide between those with physical and economic well-being and those without. The health care sector alone cannot move the needle on such population-level health outcomes.”

These patterns of poverty and related hardships fall disproportionately on people of color. In California, 23.6 percent of Latinos lived in poverty in 2017, as did 17.6 percent of African Americans, 16.4 percent of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders, and 12.5 percent of whites. The report notes that in poor communities, housing instability is a major barrier to good health, as well as the absence of parks and bike paths, a lack of stores where healthy food can be obtained, poor indoor air quality and clean water, safety problems, and lower-performing schools.

Healthy Californians are critical for a strong workforce for the future. As the report notes, when employees are healthy, they can contribute more fully as productive workers, which in turn, can grow personal incomes, consumer spending, greater tax revenues for governments, and overall economic growth.

Numerous initiatives are under way through the Summit to ensure that the Social Determinants of Health function as positive forces for individuals and families. Among those efforts: expanding affordable housing, creating living-wage jobs, and providing cradle-to-career educational and training opportunities. Prioritizing and integrating health and well-being into prosperity efforts at the community, regional and state levels constitutes an essential element for making “California Dream” a shared experience for all who live here.


Deb Kollars

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